In this series I’m sharing some Bible verses that have been pivotal in my personal faith formation and life journey.
For each time I speak….the word of the LORD has resulted In reproach and derision all day long. But if I say I’ll never mention the LORD or speak in his name, his word burns in my heart like a fire. It’s like a fire in my bones! I am worn out trying to hold it in! I can’t do it!” JEREMIAH 20:8-9
So, I fell head over heels in love with God’s Word in college. I eventually switched my major to Biblical and Theological Studies with a minor in Biblical Greek. I was trading in my basketball sneakers for Bible commentaries, and I was set on pursuing advanced degrees and eventually becoming a New Testament scholar and Bible professor.
Just as I had spent hours perfecting my 3-point stroke in high school, now I wanted to wax eloquent from the front of a lecture hall on all Bible-related subjects. I now revered my college profs in the same way I once revered Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson.
Only one small obstacle stood in my way of becoming a great teacher or preacher of the Bible: a paralyzing fear of public speaking and deep-seated insecurity around my abilities to articulate verbally the thoughts inside my head.
I remember identifying with Jeremiah’s similar (but very different) problem. He also felt a deep sense of call and passion to proclaim God’s Word but whenever he opened his mouth it resulted in embarrassment and reproach “all day long.”
My struggle was twofold. First, I was terrified just to get up and speak to anyone about anything in a public classroom setting. I actually quit two majors (Elementary Education and Communication) prior to majoring in Biblical & Theological Studies mainly because they required public speaking. I almost wet my pants during my first teaching field experience in a 6th grade math class.
Looking back I have no idea why a person could be so insecure in front of the most insecure age group on earth! But I still break out into cold sweats driving past the school 15 years later where I faced my great fear and failed to overcome it.
Secondly, even when my nerves would allow me to get up in front and begin to teach or present on a biblical or theological topic, I was simply unable to put into words the deep and thorough knowledge I had in my brain. I was tongue tied.
It made sense in my head but when I tried to share an insight or lead a Bible study, or give a talk to some middle school youth group kids, or present in front of the class, I just couldn’t articulate things with clarity, coherence and confidence.
I felt paralyzed. I had this rich reservoir of truth and (I think) an above average facility in all things biblical but I just couldn’t get it out of my head. So, I kept silent and kept storing up more and more knowledge and understanding.
I completed a B.A. degree in Biblical and Theological Studies. Then I completed a Masters degree in theological studies. I aced all my papers and graduated near the top of my classes with honors. My profs encouraged me to pursue Ph.D. studies, and I could keep up with the best of them — in writing!
But I still couldn’t manage to teach or speak or preach. And all this knowledge and passionate learning was shut up in my bones like a fire, and I couldn’t stand it any longer. But every time I tried to release the pressure and overcome this weakness by teaching, it resulted in a series of humiliating experiences I would rather not go into.
So, Jeremiah 20:8-9 became my constant companion and life verse for much of my 20s as I left school and became a youth pastor. My first full time youth pastor role was plagued by this secret struggle to learn to teach and preach.
I developed an almost debilitating stomach / indigestion issues during these years — I think largely connected to my anxiety around speaking every week to a youth group. I would literally be in the bathroom popping Imodium AD or drinking Pepto Bismal, fighting diarrhea and cold sweats almost every time I spoke. Not the same kind of suffering and persecution Jeremiah faced in his day, but I wouldn’t wish that experience on anyone.
But like Jeremiah, come hell or high water, I couldn’t hold God’s Word in my heart anymore. I had to figure out a way to overcome this phobia to preach and teach the messages that burned in my belly!
By God’s grace I have largely overcome my fear of speaking and each Sunday I feel more at home in God’s Word and in front of a congregation. God is faithful. We can overcome. Just press on!
So, I thank the LORD for this episode in Jeremiah’s life and the ways that I found a friend who could relate to my struggle and who inspired me to keep trying until I found words and confidence to let that fire in my belly out!
Read full series here.